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25/09/2021

Green Jobs Plan Hopes to Improve Milwaukee’s Racial Inequity

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For nearly two years, a local task force has been debating some profound issues, including mitigating the effects of climate change while addressing justice for environmental jobs. According to the Milwaukee City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity, Green jobs are critical to bringing about change. 

Last month, Erick Shambarger spoke to a small group of people scattered throughout the main hall of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. Shambarger is the executive director of the city’s Environmental Collaboration Office and a member of the city-county climate task force. He introduced panelists who were eager to share their knowledge of the green job sector. “We have established goals, which is to reduce our community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030,” Shambarger said. 

But climate change isn’t Milwaukee’s only challenge, WUWM-FM reports. “We have to do a much better job of having household incomes for people of color being on par with white families,” Shambarger said. 

Shambarger says it will take many workers to green up the city, starting with retrofitting homes with energy efficiencies. “At a minimum, these green jobs should allow somebody with an annual income of about $40,000 a year,” Shambarger said. 

Chris Martinez’s team of Milwaukee business owners creates energy solutions for places like Tippecanoe Library. Martinez refers to the journeyman apprenticeship program as a career ladder. 

According to panelist Chris Martinez, these aren’t just jobs; they’re careers. The Milwaukee native began his electrical company 23 years ago with only one employee – himself. Martinez now employs over 30 people and participates in the apprenticeship program of the local electrical union. 

Martinez said it works like an escalator. “So, once you get on the escalator, you make your grades in school, you have your hours on the jobs site. Incrementally you’re making 100% of those journeyman wages,” Martinez added, “People can enter as a young person, earn a sustainable wage, get benefits, and have a retirement in the future.” 

Demetrius Thompson, a journeyman plumber, has developed expertise in specialized hospital and clinic projects. He also instructs apprentices. Thompson says he wants to provide opportunities for anyone in the inner city; sometimes, all you need is someone who looks like you or with whom you can relate, and then you’ll listen and be more attentive. 

Electricians will be vital to Milwaukee’s future. So will plumbers, journeyman Demetrius Thompson told the audience. 

We retrofit showerheads, faucets, toilets to conserve and use less water per flush, or fewer gallons per minute. You can actually install gray water systems in your house to reuse sink water and shower water; you can flush toilets with those. Those are systems that can be implemented in the long run; it’ll save and help everybody,” Thompson said. 

 DNR secretary Preston Cole was there to talk up another vital trade — that of arborists —but looking out at lots of empty chairs in front of him, Cole couldn’t hold back his frustration. “I would have loved to have seen 35 young kids in here,” Cole lamented. 

 As for the role of arborists, Cole said, “Arboriculture is one of the fastest-growing fields. There are about 60,000 vacancies nationwide with another 60,000 in Europe,” Cole wondered out loud, “Who’s going to be recruiting these young men and women?” One young professional was there and had questions. Bree Jackson works with Groundwork Milwaukee.  “I hold a position of leadership in green jobs and education here in Milwaukee. What relationships, if any, that you all have with nonprofit organizations within the city who have youth and are looking to create pipelines into these jobs?” Jackson asked. 

According to journeyman electrician Michele Robinson, the idea that if you’re never going to amount to anything, you should go into the trades is kind of amusing because you have to do a lot of on-the-feet problems solving. You have to be able to interpret and communicate with a variety of people. You have to be able to do that well. Erick Shambarger of the city’s Environmental Collaboration Office and city-county climate task force echoed the desire to connect with organizations like Groundwork Milwaukee. 

If you found a way to get people excited about these jobs, great! The (DNR) secretary’s right, the next meeting should have 30 people. We want to say – if you want to get into the electrical trades, here’s where you go, if you want to learn a building science, here’s the program at MATC, if you want to get into home energy efficiency, here’s where to go and here are the employers that you get hooked up with, “Shambarger added, “We’re developing that, and we want to work with you very closely on that.” 

A Milwaukee Common Council committee is considering a proposal to direct $2.7 million of Milwaukee’s American Rescue Plan funding toward green energy job creation and another portion toward low-income energy efficiency projects. 

Source: U.S. News & World Report

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